Updated on January 30, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
It’s well-known that growing pot for medicinal use can bring a positive economic impact to states where it is legal, but you might not realize it can be beneficial for the environment as well. These are just a few of those benefits.
Bringing Marijuana Operations out in the Open
Illegal growing operations can decimate forest lands and ecosystems. Many growers strip lands and pump in dangerous pesticides in order to protect their crops. The more areas that legalize pot, the less the strain would be on public land. Also, growers would have to meet stringent standards in regard to the proper disposal of any toxic substances they use.
A lot of growers cultivate their plants indoors, which takes a great deal of energy. Legalizing weed would not only reduce this type of energy usage substantially, but it would also reduce the carbon footprint of growers. Bringing growth operations out in the open would allow cultivators to use the natural light of the sun to sustain their plants. Legalization would also put an end to the use of harsh, harmful chemicals that law enforcement officials often use to destroy plants.
Another benefit of legalization would be the increased production of hemp. This is a variety of cannabis that has a much lower amount of THC, which is the psychoactive component of marijuana. Hemp could help reduce our dependency on foreign fuel and provide a much more earth-friendly method of producing fiber.
In states where cannabis is legal, innovative methods of packaging are not only proving safe for the environment, but they also help keep legal weed out of the hands of young children. The cannabis packaging industry didn’t even exist just a few years ago — now it is poised for an incredible boom. Sustainable packaging is compostable as well as recyclable and eliminates the need for plastic.
Innovations in Growing Marijuana
Colorado is a great example of a state that is already seeing the benefits of weed-growing operations that have a commitment to protecting the environment. Thanks to regulations as well as advances in lighting, ventilation and dehumidification systems, Coloradoans involved in home growing are having far less of an impact on energy consumption. Many of these indoor operations are producing viable, healthy plants while cutting their energy use by as much as 50 percent.
Government regulation is also helping. For example, Boulder County introduced rules in 2015 requiring licensed growers of cannabis to only use 100 percent renewable and sustainable energy for cultivation. Those who are unable to comply with these rules due to space or financial considerations must pay into an energy offset fund. Part of this fund goes toward educating growers on ways to conserve energy in their growing operations.
A Colorado energy company provides rebates to companies that incorporate energy-efficient practices. This program was not specifically designed for cannabis operations, of course, but it’s available to any business with energy-intensive operations.
Legal growing operations are turning to environmentally friendly practices not just to protect the earth, but also to cut costs and increase profits. Many of the wasteful practices illegal growers have performed for years simply don’t make economic sense anymore.
Growers are taking environmental consciousness to new levels. For instance, they’re turning clippings of plants into fertilizer, and some are even going to the extreme of saving condensation from air conditioner units in order to save water. Their efforts can pay off handsomely if they are certified as green organizations, because buyers tend to be attracted to growers who show a commitment to the environment. As a result, these growers can charge a higher price for their product and people will gladly buy it.
Room for Improvement
While there is a substantial amount of progress being made toward making pot cultivation better for our planet, there are still plenty of growers who insist on sticking to the time-tested processes that go into producing quality weed. One of the main reasons for their resistance is they simply don’t know any better.
It can be hard, for example, to convince someone who only knows how to grow indoors and uses pesticides that there is another way. That grower can produce plants that are just as healthy — and at the same level of quality — by moving operations outdoors and not using damaging pesticides and fertilizers.
LED lighting is beginning to gain acceptance as indoor growers look for ways to lower costs and reduce energy usage. LED bulbs use half the electricity of traditional bulbs and can last as long as 10 to 20 years. They also emit less heat, which in turn reduces the amount of air conditioning needed to keep plants at a safe temperature. Even set-in-their-ways, old-school cultivators are starting to realize how the newest generation of LED lights can help provide the same quality of plant as traditional bulbs. And although LED lights are more expensive, growers will easily recoup their costs over the long run.
A Bright Future For Marijuana
Even though outdoor growing is the preferred method of environmentally friendly cultivation, there are many experts who believe greenhouses will ultimately be the preferred venue for growing pot. By using the sun to lower energy costs and integrating technology, both quality and yield can ultimately increase. There are some greenhouses that are incredibly advanced, equipped with sensors that are able to turn the lights on when a cloud blocks the sun.
And, again, there will be economic incentives to use this technology. The legal market is expected to only grow in the coming years as more states legalize marijuana. If this does indeed come to pass, the price of cannabis will ultimately be driven down. Running artificial lights will no longer be cost effective, so using the power of the sun will be a must.
Technology is also being developed that will help the industry reduce its carbon footprint even further by helping them make more informed decisions regarding its products. Software is being designed that will allow producers to track their crop at every stage, from seed to market. That way, growers will know how their crops react to water, light, temperature and other factors that determine their ultimate quality.